For about five minutes during the second period of Saturday’s Game 5 Calder Cup showdown between the Stars and Toronto Marlies, the sellout, standing room only crowd inside HEB Center made it feel like it really was the biggest game in Cedar Park in four years.
The rest of the game, the crowd could only watch as a Texas team that has been defined by its resiliency all season long folded under pressure.
The Marlies demolished the Stars 6-2 in Game 5 on Saturday night to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series as the Calder Cup Finals shifts back to Canada for the last leg of games.
“I liked our push in the second period, but from that point on, you’re just chasing the game and trying to manage some pride,” Stars head coach Derek Laxdal said. “We got the start we wanted. We got some of the looks we wanted. It even hurts more when you have a capacity crowd like that in the building.”
Gavin Bayreuther scored for the Stars in the second period, firing a shot from the blue line that briefly cut the lead to one. Rookie Sheldon Dries scored his ninth goal of the playoffs in the third period.
Toronto outshot Texas 30-25 overall and there was one penalty called all game on a Curtis McKenzie cross-check in the third period.
Mike McKenna, who received by far the loudest ovation during player introductions, was pulled after the second period, allowing five goals on 22 shots. Landon Bow made seven saves in the third period, his first appearance since April.
“There’s nothing in there that we can’t do better and come out and have a better game on Tuesday,” McKenna said. “It’s a fast game and things happen quickly, it’s tough to control bounces and things like that. You can do your best to put yourself on the right side of the puck.”
The series will return north of the border for its conclusion. Game 6 will be Tuesday at 6 p.m. and, if necessary, Game 7 will be Thursday at 6 p.m.
The teams have traded games since the series began in Toronto last Saturday, with the Marlies winning the first game 6-5 and the Stars taking the second game 2-1 on Sunday. Toronto won Game 3 in Texas 2-1 on Tuesday and Texas took evened the series with a 3-2 win in Game 4 on Thursday night.
“We like when our backs are against the wall,” forward Justin Dowling said. “We’re good on the road and we play better when we’re desperate. We have to win two games anyway and we’ve won two games in a row a lot this year.”
Outside of the first couple minutes, Toronto controlled the game the entire first period and outshot Texas 11-6 over the opening 20 minutes.
The Marlies scored the first goal of the game a minute and a half in when Andreas Johnsson got behind the Texas defense to score his team-leading eighth goal of the playoffs on the breakaway.
Less than a minute later, Trevor Moore buried a rebound to double the Marlies’ lead.
“I don’t think that’s happened to us all year,” McKenzie said. “It stunned us a little bit and you can’t do it this time of year. It’s happened throughout the year that we’ve gained points and wins when we really needed it. There have been little lessons that will help us in Game 6 and 7.”
Bayreuther’s rocket shot from the point four minutes into the second period gave Texas a glimmer of hope, but Toronto restored its two-goal lead less than five minutes later and Calle Rosen scored two more goals later in the period to all but seal the win.
Toronto forward Carl Grundstrom scored midway through the third period and Dries got one back for Texas less than 20 seconds later, banging home a rebound in an open net.
Texas beat the Ontario Reign 3-1 in the opening round, topped the Tucson Roadrunners in five games in round two and needed six games to take down the Rockford IceHogs in the Western Conference Finals.
“Our group has gone through the playoffs and we haven’t faced an elimination game yet,” Laxdal said. “It’s a good test for us and we’re still playing until they tell us we can’t play anymore. We’re not going to change who we are. We’re the underdogs and I believe in our group 100 percent.”